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Nota bene: This interview is imaginary. The words put in as Pascale Marthine Tayou are mine. I could have written an essay on him and used “he” instead of straightforward answers. But the answers I have put in his mouth were created from what I know of him. I think they give as much information that an essay would, and, overall, I found it a funnier method to proceed that way, with, of course, Tayou’s approval.!—Simon Njami

Simon Njami: Pascale Marthine Tayou, you have a strange name. If I wouldn’t know you, I might think that you are a woman. Is that your real name?

Pascale Marthine Tayou: What is a name? Os that something that defines you or should you be the one to define it? It is my real name, of course, since I have chosen it. Whatever name my parents gave me was their idea. There was nothing I could do about it. If they have decided to call me “Parrot,” then what you call or mean by real name would be “Parrot.” Don’t you think that Parrot is even stranger than Pascale Marthine? We all have a feminine side that we are trying to hide because a male must have a certain attitude. I don’t care much about convention. I wanted to express my feminine side.

Well, from what I know you chose that name when you decided to become an artist. Is it related to something that you want to ex-press as an artist?

Who told you that I am an artist? I am not an artist. I am a humam being who is doing his stuff. If that makes me an artist, then so be it. But again, this artist stuff is another convention. Who decides? How does it work? As for my name, I never wanted anyone to decide for me. I see myself as a “maker,” because I make things. There is a certain hierarchy or snobbism in this art world that I have discovered more than a decade ago. People are always pretending to be something else than what they really are. I never wanted to fall into that trap. Why should I be considered as an artist when I see around me, like in Cameroon, for instance, a lot of gifted people doing things that one could admire in the best museums? But those people are not called artists, because they do not belong to the system. Of course I have to deal with the international art system. But I do not want to become its slave. I want to remain free to do whatever I feel like doing without fearing judgements and critics.

You have mentioned Cameroon. That is the place where you were born. Do you consider yourself as a Cameroonian?

First of all, I see myself as a human being. I am a citizen of the world. Yet I am an African. This is something that I cannot deny. And, of course, I am a Cameroonian. That is the place where I was born. That is the place where my parents live and where I grew up to become the person I am today. Those things matter. I do not belive in this global bullshit where people pretend to be something else than what they are. Each time I come back to Cameroon I feel home; a very particular and specific home that is living in me and will never die. When I am in Gent, where I live, I feel home as well. But it is a different space, mentally and physically. We are coming from somewhere. That’s probably what makes the world so interesting because we have different personalities, different backgrounds, different ways of dealing with things. If I would have been born elsewhere, whatever I am producing would be different. The trap is that the world has always wanted to trap people in a geographical location. Particularly Africans. As if you could not be African and feel at home somewhere else. As if to be an African would mean something different that to be Belgian. It is the same. Only details change. But we are living in a world where details are more important than the essence of things. It is a pity.

Precisely. Your answer allows me to jump to my next question, about African contemporary art. What is your feeling about this concept and do you see yourself as a contemporary African artist?

This question again. I wonder if German colleagues are always asked about this kind of bullshit. Somebody came up one day with that concept and we have to live with it. What does it mean? Nobody would be able to say. But it became a kind of a postcolonial commodity. It allows ignorant critics to cover their ignorance by contextualizing pieces that they can’t understand. There was something quite telling during the exhibition curated by Simon Njami, Africa Remix. Some specialists complained about the fact that Njami selected some artists from Tunisia, Egypt, and Morocco. Njami just asked them to look at the map. This example tells us about all fantasies that are hidden behind that concept. Since I am an African and I am called an artist, I suppose that I belong to the category of the contemporary African artists. But what does that mean when it comes to look at my work? Nothing special, I guess. Africa is a vast continent, not a country, nor a village. And by using that term people tend to forget that we are individuals and that our different experiences and personalities cannot be summarized by too vague a concept.

I know this is a tricky question, but I would like to know how you work. What drives you and from where do you derive your ideas or, to use the conventional word, your inspiration?

I do not believe in inspiration. There is something too mystical there. I supposes that an artist would necessarily be some illuminated jerk, waiting for the wind of wisdom to bow on his head that have always been a kind of marketing lie attached to the artists. According to that idea, an artist should be a suffering being, always tortured by his creation. I am not a suffering being, and I am not tortured by my work. I am not waiting for God to show me the light. Mine is the result of what I see around me, a reflection on the world I live in. Maybe this is what makes me contemporary: I deal with my time and with issues of my time, trying to transform them into objects that will be called art. And this might happen anywhere. I Japan, in the United States, in Africa… I see myself like a kind of storyteller, a columnist; therefore, I could be attracted by anything _ politics, environment, economy. I don’t mind, as long as  it provokes something within that forces me to come to terms with it. And then the medium will follow. I do not hold any a priori regarding the medium. The medium is dictated by the story I want to tell. It could be sculpture, paintings, drawings, video, it doesn’t matter. What matters to me is to reflect as closely as possible the ideas that I have.

Did you follow a formal training?

What do you mean by “formal training”? Of course I followed a formal training, and I am still in the process. But if you mean academia, then I have to define myself as a self-taught artist. But again, it does not mean anything. I don’t think you learn to be an artist in some academy. If that were the case, a lot of artists around the world would not exist. On the contrary, I am happy that I was not loaded with theories and examples that could have killed my own perception of things. I studied law. Which means that I have what you called a formal training. But do you think that a guy who has graduated from any art academy can call himself an artist? I think that the best formation possible is the confrontation with the matter. It is only the action that enables you to find the right solutions to given problem. Without that is means to draw and to make and installation. I believe in experience. I believe, as I said earlier, in formation as an ongoing process that stops only when we stop to breathe. The rest is bullshit.

You have been part of the international art world for quite some years now. What is your take on the scene?

I have nothing special to say about that scene. I do not see myself as part of it. I have always had the feeling that my career is due to a huge misunderstanding. Therefore, I see myself like a permanent visitor, somebody who is here today but who could be elsewhere tomorrow. And I believe this is the only way to survive in that world. If critics, curators, fairs obsessed me, it would affect my work and I no longer have the freedom that I enjoy today. I think this “international” is a necessary evil- I am not going to pretend that all is wrong and that I do not want to be part of the game. As you stated it in your question, I am part of it. The real thing is how? How do you participate in the game without being weakened and instrumentalized? I am an outsider and this is what I want to remain, in order to keep being the craftsman, the maker that I am. But when you look at it as I do, the only conclusion you can reach is that this world is crazy, full of itself and amoral. I guess it is just the reflection of our humanity.

One last question: Is there something that you have not done and you wish to do?

There are so many things that I have not done. Still, there is one particular thing my head is busy with. One of the many reasons why African is disregarded is linked with the lack os local structures. Africa and Africans are full of energy. They produce; they live in extreme conditions. The talented have very few places to show their works, and the most of the time they depend on some Western structure. I would like to create a space in Cameroon where artists could work and show their works without having to follow some rules decided by others. We need to have as many structures as possible to enable African artists to show their work in their own countries.


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